Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ashford Scholarship Application Essay

Nationally, forty to fifty percent of foster youth do not graduate high school and only two percent graduate from a college or university.  In choosing to work at San Pasqual Academy (SPA), a residential school for foster youth, I work to decrease these statistics.  About forty percent of students enter SPA with reading and writing skills below a sixth-grade level.  These students are on-track to become part of the national average.  However, after two years of standards-based, grade-level instruction and support classes, eighty-ninety percent of my students pass the tenth-grade California High School Exit Exam.  This is a significant improvement; however, I want to address the second statistic.  I want more of my students to graduate high school, and then succeed in college or the workplace.  By earning a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology from Ashford University, I will increase the graduation rate among my students and better prepare them for success after graduation.

In my language arts classroom, I am currently using technology to raise student engagement.  I am amazed how well integrating technology works to increase student achievement.  Instead of simply using technology to find supportive resources for lessons, giving assessments, and communicating with students and guardians, I blend technology into standards-based lessons.  For example, while discussing character development in a novel, my students learned how to join and participate in a Google Groups discussion.  I expected that utilizing tools, such as web 2.0 sites, would entice more of my students to participate in class, but I have seen many more benefits.  By the third participation in a Google Groups discussion board, my students have begun to put an increased effort into writing using advanced grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary to share their analysis.  The collaborative nature of this technology forces my student to become more aware of their writing. When we returned to a traditional oral discussion about the novel, my students were more prepared to contribute as a result of the online discussion.  Additionally, my students utilize the Internet skills I demonstrate and employ them outside of the classroom.  For example, after I included creating online flashcards as part of review of literary terms, a few students created their own sets of flashcards for other courses.  Even though I am not explicitly stating technology standard expectations, my students are steadily improving and becoming confident technology users who are learning vocabulary such as “embed” simultaneously with literary concepts such as “implied metaphor.”  Creativity and resourcefulness have enabled me to improve my teaching, but I am now prepared to improve my practices in order to further my students’ achievement.

When I plan curriculum for my English nine and ten classes, I structure my lessons based on theories and best practices that I learned through the undergraduate credential program at Mount St. Mary’s College, in Los Angeles.  However, I have received very little instruction in the meaningful integration of educational technology in planning.  I generate my ideas of including technology into my curriculum based on what I think will work for my students.  Many times, I have taken a suggestion from a member of my district’s technology team or a trade magazine and figured out a way to implement it in my classroom.  For example, a systems technician showed me a form created in Google Docs.  I then began creating assignments, assessments, and communication tools by embedding these forms into my classroom blog.  But, if I were challenged to explain my reasons behind using these forms and spreadsheets, I would struggle to give an explanation beyond stating its simplicity and appeal to the students.  I want to explore why my usage of technology works, so that I will be better able to share theory and my enthusiasm in discussion with my peers.

By participating in coursework required of this master’s degree program, I will be able to better incorporate educational theory and learn about the practice of other educators.  I am eager to bring new ideas to my classroom.  I have already established a lab environment with my students, which allows me to reflect on my practice, but I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to better blend theory and practice.  When I discover a new tool that supports my content, I design a simple set of expectations, spend a class period in which my students and I learn how to use it, revise my lesson, create a rubric, and then teach another lesson in which we utilize the same tool for different content.  Often times, my students share in my excitement of figuring out how to improve learning. 

Outside of my classroom, I am eager to share the technology tools I integrate into lessons with colleagues.  By increasing the integration of educational technology in classes across campus, students will become more engaged while they apply their new skills across the curriculum.  However, I need to increase the depth of my knowledge of theories behind the techniques that I am preparing to share.  A Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology from Ashford University will increase my credibility as a leader on among my peers. 

Currently, my coworkers and I are struggling to change the culture of our school.  Even though over 90% of our students graduate from high school, we are not satisfied with our achievements.  The majority of our students struggle beyond graduation.  In addition to being foster youth, two-thirds of our students are minorities, which compounds the struggles they will face as young adults entering college and/or the workplace.  In combination with academic proficiency, strong technological skills will help our students to succeed once they leave SPA.  However, half my coworkers minimally utilize technology in lesson preparation and presentation.  Our residential campus has more computers than students; each student has a computer in his/her bedroom, a computer with Internet access in each living room, computers in classrooms, and two computer labs.  We are fortunate to have the means to become a model technology campus among the schools in our district.  I want to inspire and lead my coworkers into creating a plan that will use technology as a means to educate and prepare students for the future.

If I am selected to receive one of the Ashford University Teacher Scholarships, I will immediately apply and share my learning to increase student achievement.  The impact of this degree will exceed the boundaries of my physical classroom.  As a result of an education of academic standards-based lessons entwined with technology lessons, my students will become thoroughly prepared for college and the workplace. I, along with my students, will inspire my colleagues to utilize technology as a medium of instruction at SPA.  Earning a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology at Ashford University will enable me to be a change agent who will collaboratively affect the success rate of foster youth in our school and beyond.

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